Council Vows to Help Chelsea Stay at the Bridge

Club says "recognition of capacity need welcomed"

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Hammersmith and Fulham Council has vowed to help Chelsea FC stay in its "historic home" in Stamford Bridge.

The council has this week released a statement saying:

"Hammersmith & Fulham Council is proud that our Borough uniquely contains three Premiership football clubs; Chelsea FC, Fulham FC and Queens Park Rangers FC.

In light of the recent decision by Chelsea Pitch Owners PLC to retain its freehold of the ground, we reaffirm our desire to see Chelsea FC remain in the Borough and our commitment to help the club to remain at its historic home of Stamford Bridge.

We recognise that all our clubs will need greater capacity to accommodate growth in their fan bases and that new financial fair play rules necessitate generating extra match-day revenue to remain competitive with the leading English and European teams.

We are currently assisting Fulham FC with its plans to expand the capacity of its historic ground at Craven Cottage and we have already agreed to grant planning permission for additional capacity.  A new scheme is about to be consulted on.

The Council now proposes to examine whether there are planning options to expand Stamford Bridge to accommodate a larger capacity, recognising that such a project must be economically viable, benefit local businesses and not unreasonably affect residents.

We look forward to working closely with Chelsea FC and all local stakeholders as soon as possible to examine the options of redeveloping Stamford Bridge."

The statement comes a week after Chelsea FC failed in its bid to buy back the freehold to Stamford Bridge from Chelsea Pitch Owners, which was set up in 1993 in order to protect the future of the ground where the club had played since 1905. CPO is made up of around 15,000 shareholders, most of whom  are fans who bought their shares at £100 each.

Chelsea were offering them their money back and writing off a loan of £10 million made to the company 14 years ago. However many fans were suspicious that the return of the freehold would be the first step towards Chelsea moving from Stamford Bridge to a new stadium with a larger capacity.

The club claims that CPO's protection is no longer needed as Roman Abramovich's ownership and long-term commitment to the club removes the once real danger that the team could find itself homeless or at a substandard ground.

However Chelsea has admitted that buying back the freehold would remove a potential hurdle should a suitable site become available in the future, and it has also admitted it has tentatively explored the possibility of moving to another local site, with the most likely being White City, Earls Court or Nine Elms in Battersea, all of which are earmarked for large scale regeneration.

White City is thought to be the most likely site, with reports that the BBC is considering moving to a new location, thus freeing up a large amount of land.

The club, which has acknowledged for years that its current crowd capacity of under 42,000 is too small for its needs, welcomed the council's move and released its own statement, saying:

" Chelsea Football Club welcomes the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham's commitment to see the Club stay in the Borough and importantly their recognition of our need for greater capacity at Stamford Bridge.

As an initial step in a renewed dialogue with the Borough, we would like to explore promptly with LBHF how they propose helping us address the club's current problem of Stamford Bridge having substantially reduced capacity for big games.

We will be happy to meet Borough officials to discuss this further and especially their desire to see us stay at Stamford Bridge."

Speculation among fans is that redevelopment could mean stands with extra tiers and new access being created to Fulham Broadway Station and over a bridge to Seagrave Road, thus taking the pressure off Fulham Road on matchdays.

This latest news comes two weeks after Fulham FC announced plans to stay on and increase the crowd capacity at its ground Craven Cottage.

 

October 27, 2011